Redhill to Brighton

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Who doesn’t like a day at the seaside and there’s nowhere more iconic location for that than Brighton.  I first cycled there in 1996 as a sponsored participant in the British Heart Foundation’s annual London to Brighton charity ride and collected about £700 for my efforts.  I repeated the ride again in 1996 and 1997, by which time I was running out of interest and also finding some of the other +40,000 other riders a little too enthusiastic for safety; it is a sobering thought that each year people were actually getting killed, usually as a result of reckless behaviour! Notwithstanding, it was a fun event and as I practically live on the route, from time-to-time I have occasionally still join the ride as it passes through my home patch each year.

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Living on the southern outskirts of London, just outside the M25 motorway below the North Downs hills, I rarely cycle northwards – it’s just too busy, built-up and hard work – preferring instead cycle rides that head East, West or South.  Having developed numerous circular routes of up to 60 miles from home and with greater fitness, it soon became necessary to look further afield and where better than Brighton?

 

The obvious route is to follow the direction of the aforesaid London to Brighton charity ride but I rejected this because (a) it replicates much of my cycle route to Newhaven and other similar rides, and (b) it requires climbing the South Downs by way of the notoriously hard Ditchling Beacon – well why make life difficult?  Like the annual historic car rally and other similar events, there is a more direct route along and around the A23 but this is not particular pleasant being itself routinely very busy with traffic.  As a result I have instead developed a very enjoyable ride that takes a more westerly route and combines good scenery, quite roads and takes advantage of a natural gap though the South Downs.

Redhill to Brighton Route

Click for route details here

Elevation

The first 11 miles is familiar territory for me passing just east of Gatwick Airport via the villages of Leigh and Newdigate to Rusper, which surprisingly marks the highest point on the entire route.  In contrast to East Sussex the West Sussex section across the Weald though lumpy in parts is not as high as in the east and, as previously indicated, a break in the South Downs conveniently provides much easier cycling across this otherwise significant obstacle.  After Rusper it’s a well-earned coast downhill and around the eastern outskirts of Horsham, before crossing the bucolic countryside of the central Weald all the way to Partridge Green.  On a sunny day this really is a treat on a bike – gently rolling, open fields interspersed with woodland, dotted along the way with attractive Wealden style buildings, often encountering horse riders ambling along the lanes or sometimes even a coach and horses – truly England at its very best.

Though continuing through countryside and not unpleasant, the A 2135 south of Partridge Green is not particularly noteworthy and a little busier.  At the end it is necessary to carefully navigate a short left-hand dog-leg across the busy A283 before riding into Steyning. Situated on the lower slopes of the South Downs, Steyning is an attractive small country town, which in itself is interesting and provides many opportunities for a refreshment stop if required.

Just outside the town centre the ride turns to join the valley of the River Adur, which usefully cuts directly through the Downs.  Careful navigation is required to locate Maudlin Lane on the right, a small country road to Botolph and Coombes which are not signed.  Thereafter the road runs along the eastern foothills of the Down’s gap, with attractive views overlooking the river to the east and beyond to the Downs on the other side of the valley.  There are still some steep but thankfully very short hills, which are nonetheless much better than going over the top elsewhere; on a suitable bike it is also possible to take a track that runs along the riverbank but do not take the main A283 road which here is very busy with heavy and fast moving traffic.

At the end of this section it is necessary to carefully navigate another dog-leg across the very busy A27 Shoreham Bypass road, turning right then immediately thereafter left onto the Old Shoreham Road; thankfully with patience and the convenience of traffic lights this is not too difficult.  For motorists this road goes nowhere, apart from vehicle access to a few commercial buildings, for pedestrians and cyclists it’s a different matter. This is what’s left of the old, original coast road and just ahead is the magnificent Grade-II listed Shoreham Tollbridge crossing the River Adur.

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Shoreham Tollbridge opened in 1782 (South Downs in the background)

Opened in 1782, the bridge is built entirely of wood and can now only be used by pedestrians and cyclists but is well worth the detour to experience.  Apart from its antiquity, at this point the river is tidal and depending on the state of the tide, provides wonderful views along the river towards the sea. Immediately after crossing the bridge turn right onto a mostly paved track that runs along the eastern riverbank and into the coastal town of Shoreham; the provision of benches and tables along this section provides an attractive refreshment stop overlooking the river.

A short detour on the small backroads into Old Shoreham is very worthwhile.  Dating back to pre-Roman / Anglo Saxon times, the area has a very interesting character and some fascinating very old churches and other buildings; probably the best snack stop on the route is at Teddy’s Tearooms on East Street – the quality and size of the cake portions is without parallel in my experience!  Thereafter, it’s necessary to take the busy A259 coastal road all the way into Brighton but there are compensations, with frequent sea views on the right.  Initially the road passes Shoreham harbour itself is a busy, before eventually rolling into the western outskirts of Hove.

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On reaching the end of Hove Lawns swing right off the main road and onto the cycle path that now runs all the way to Brighton Pier; if the main road is too busy it is possible to join the cycle path further west.  Given the nature of Brighton it is no surprise that this cycle path is very busy and care needs to be taken with other users and pedestrians, who share the space with cyclists. The dominant features along the front at Brighton & Hove are of course the beach / sea to the right and to the left the attractive architecture.  The Regency buildings, crescents and squares that dominate this section of the ride are truly magnificent and worth stopping to view.  Unfortunately despite today’s strict planning controls, over time numerous modern buildings have also appeared, some of which are a complete eyesore – I presume these were bomb damaged sites left after WWII and subsequently redeveloped in an era when planning was less strict?

The main stretch of Brighton promenade starts at the now derelict West Pier.  For years much pressure was brought to bear upon the authorities to rebuild this Regency pier but without success.  Notwithstanding, located at the landward end of the pier stands the 531ft British Airways i360 tower opened in 2016.  This imposing structure with its 21st century viewing pod that runs up and down the tower now dominates the area and despite my original scepticism, on a clear day provides a magnificent view of Brighton and the coast beyond and is also quite fun to ride.  As a result the i360 has already become a very popular attraction and is sure to increase visitors to this part of Brighton in the future.

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Finally, the ride naturally finishes in front of the still standing and very popular Brighton Palace Pier (image at the top of the page).   An alternative and interesting route for the last quarter mile is along the beach itself.  Bikes can be taken down large Victorian ramps to a walkway that runs along the beach edge but will need to be  wheeled along the boardwalk rather than riding – it is nonetheless very pleasant and provides many eating and drinking venues, as well as some very active night clubs should you arrive after midnight! If the weather is good a swim in the sea is obligatory to freshen up + an ice cream nearby afterwards.

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Before heading back either cycling or by rail from the beautiful Victorian station, the town itself is also well worth a visit.  Most famous are The Lanes and the Royal Pavilion but the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery is a spectacular building that epitomises the very best architecture from the Victorian era.  Alternatively a spin along Madeira Drive to the east of the Palace Pier and perhaps on to Brighton Marina is also worthwhile.  All-in-all this is a very enjoyable 41-mile ride which could easily be extended to start from within London if necessary.  Notwithstanding, on this occasion it is about the destination and not (so such) the journey. Brighton is a truly exciting end for a bike ride – just make sure there’s enough time and energy left to enjoy it.

 

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Life on a bike-7: Speed

Soon after learning to ride a bike, speed probably becomes the next objective.  We’re all speed junkies, especially in our youth.  We may have already experienced speed in a car, train or plane but on a bike the experience is more visceral and somehow seems more real.  As a child the extra velocity achieved just rolling down a modest incline is thrilling and will soon lead to more daring exploits in order to achieve greater speed.

Speed can be achieved under the power of the cyclist’s strength alone or by taking advantage of favourable terrain to achieve even greater speeds.  In the former case speed might be measured over a distance, on the road in time trials or on the track, where very high speeds can only be sustained for a short period of time.  Road racing probably provides the most dramatic spectacle as riders literally plunge from the top of mountains, often on narrow, bendy and sometimes slippery roads, at speeds in excess of 65mph.  On the flat the peloton can still travel at 30mph but, with over 160 riders in close formation as in the Tour de France, there is the strong possibility of multiple crashes as riders balance the benefit gained from drafting, with the threat posed other riders just inches away.

Ultimate cycling speed will normally be achieved on a smooth surface but off-road speed provides another type of thrill.  With bumps, roots, rocks and mud along the way, at speed coming off is almost guaranteed, at which point colliding with the aforementioned obstacles inevitably results in injury. However, the appeal therein is pitting bike skills against the natural terrain and obstacles whilst travelling fast.

For the serious speed junkie and racers, speed is taken as an occupational hazard but it is not to be underestimated. Where there is speed, there is risk and danger that can sometimes lead to serious accidents, even death.

For the less adventurous, who doesn’t enjoy speeding along an open road on a warm summer’s day?  It provides an intoxicating feeling that brings cycling to life and makes life all the better for it.

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Redhill to Newhaven

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I first undertook this ride in May 2009 on the first day on my way to Paris, since then I have ridden it often each year and refined the route a little.  The ride crosses the attractive Wealden countryside of Sussex before reaching the interesting county town of Lewes and thence along the valley of the River Ouse past the South Downs and eventually into the coastal port town of Newhaven.  For those attempting the now popular London to Paris ride via the Avenue Verte south of Dieppe, I believe this this to be the best and most practical route to the Newhaven ferry once past the M25; the alternative NCR 21 is much less direct, includes some off-road stretches and frequently suffers poor surface conditions that will require an MTB.

The first 13-miles of this route to Turners Hill is on roads I use for shorter day rides, ending at the top of the aforementioned eponymous and somewhat steep hill, with a convenient bench on the green on which to take a rest.  At this point the route has now entered the Wealden geology that constitutes the central part of the ride, which is typically hilly and wooded and forms an altogether attractive ride.  Along the way are Wakehurst Arboretum, Ardingly and Lindfield all of which provide pleasant and useful stopping points if there’s time.

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Click for route details here

 

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Not too hilly

After the Weald, the section between Wivelsfield Green and the South Downs becomes more rolling in character and in my opinion, is perhaps the most attractive part of the ride; the view ahead towards the now looming South Downs is beautiful but stop, turn round and look back on reaching the junction with the B2116 for a real treat of what England’s best countryside looks like.  After crossing through the South Downs by way of the Offham gap on the A275, the road enters the county town of East Sussex, Lewes.  If you have the time and have not visited Lewes before it is very interesting and well worth a look.

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Bonfire night in Lewes

Thereafter, after a short winding section that passes the county prison, it is preferable to take the Kingston – Piddinghoe Road that runs along the western edge of the River Ouse and finally into Newhaven; the alternative A26 which runs along the eastern side of the river is much busier with traffic, including lorries going to the port and is far less suitable for cyclists.  The small villages strung out along this final section to Newhaven are all very pleasant and worth brief detours to see.  Though somewhat hilly, a deviation right will take you into the quintessential Downs’ hamlet of Telescombe, a real beauty that is worth the effort to see.

As a working port, in truth the centre of Newhaven is industrial and somewhat run down but take Fort Road the short 1-mile further down to Newhaven Fort and eventually the outer harbour and an alternative, more pleasant part of the town is discovered.  On a good day from here the view towards Seaford and the white chalk cliffs beyond is very attractive but also the Fort itself is worth a visit.

If you’re not going on from here, perhaps to France, there is a regular train service back to London from Newhaven station located immediately adjacent to the ferry terminal.  All-in-all this is a very enjoyable 41-mile ride from Redhill or South London, with some beautiful scenery along the way and, if warm enough, it can be worth a dip in the sea to finish.

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Journey’s end at Newhaven beach

 

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My tents

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My current tents in use, left to right: Hilleberg Nallo 3GT, Vango Banshee 300 & Vango Tigris 400

My first tent was inherited from my Dad who, together with a collection of lightweight camping equipment purchased it in 1939, had a planned to go cycle touring in Europe.  Timing is everything in life and unfortunately shortly thereafter WWII put a stop to that plan, however, about 27-years later I was to become the new owner of his camping gear which I then used often until about 1972.  As it was originally intended for cycle touring the tent had one important feature – it was lightweight – which in 1939 meant proofed cotton.  The bell tent style was a single skin, with a central two-piece bamboo pole and no groundsheet but in 1939 was nevertheless considered state-of-the-art.  I never used it for cycle touring myself but I hitchhiked all over the UK and Europe with it in the late 1960s and early 1970s and had a lot of fun.

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In about 1974 I purchased my own tent, the now famous Vango Force-10 (above) which is still popular today and at that time was being made in Scotland where I was living.  It was initially used for climbing and walking trips and thereafter during motoring holidays around the UK and Europe.  It was and is still regarded as an outstanding 2-person ridge tent, which has an inner and outer tent made of proofed cotton and a plastic groundsheet. Used on many challenging occasions I can testify to its robust nature but it was really still too bulky to be used for cycle touring.  I still have this tent but have not used it for many years and doubt that I ever will again but I just can’t bear to part with it as it holds many happy memories – maybe good for the garden and grandchildren one day?

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In the following decade and by now a father of two children, we owned and used a very large 5-person French frame tent for family holidays.  Made of treated heavy cotton supported by aluminium poles, this tent was very heavy and awkward to transport even by car, to say nothing of being cumbersome and difficult to erect.  In recent years we used it for camping based cycle holidays in France, during which it still proved its worth in some substantial thunderstorms.  However, recognising that it had become too much hard work and was unlikely to be used again, it was finally sold it on eBay in 2015 – I’m pleased to say that it was bought by a young family for their holidays.

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Like so much of modern life, changes in camping equipment have been driven by increased wealth, leisure time and perhaps most of all, new materials and design.  And so in 2008 the aforementioned frame tent was replaced by another Vango, this time a 4-berth Tigris 400 tunnel tent made of ultra-lightweight synthetic materials; the tent fabric itself is very thin but is exceptionally strong, watertight and light.  Likewise the tent poles are made of fibreglass, which though long are light and strong.  Notwithstanding, this tent is still much too large and heavy for cycle touring but we have often used it like the frame tent for longer stay, camping-based cycle trips during which it has also fared well in some large storms.

Despite all the aforementioned camping and cycling trips, it was only in 2010 that I eventually purchased my first tent specifically for cycle touring – a Vango of course!  The Banshee 300 is described as a compact entry level tent, which though factually correct in my opinion does not do it justice.  Using modern, lightweight materials the design of this 3-person tent is clever and was quite an eye opener for me.  It has since been the foundation of most of my cycle camping trips until recently and has always performed very well.

Weighing in at just 2.75kg I have found it to be an ideal one-man and pretty good 2-person tent for cycle touring; though probably a bit too cosy for three + luggage.  Panniers and helmets can be stowed in the front space between the outer and inner tent, using a zipped flap to access the otherwise dead space.  Clothes and sleeping gear are of course kept dry in the inner tent and I store a Trangia and related cooking and drinking bits and pieces along one side, where a useful space has been cleverly created between the inner and outer tents. Being small space is inevitably limited in the Banshee 300 but it is still comfortable, though good organisation is essential to make the best of the situation.  The main drawback of this small tent is its 107cm height but you get used to it.  It is easy and quick to erect, stands up well to the worst of wet and windy weather, whilst drying out rapidly thereafter.  Currently retailing at about £120 it’s an outstanding cycle touring tent for the money but when I purchased it in a winter sale for £50 it was a steal!

img_2444-mediumOver more than five years I have successfully used the Vango Banshee 300 in the UK and Europe for cycle touring and still love it but looking for a bit more room and storage space I recently purchased what is considered by many to be the Rolls Royce of lightweight tents – The Hilleberg Nallo 3GT.  This ultra-light tunnel tent provides more than twice the floor space of the Banshee but, depending on configuration, only weighs between 2.60kg and 3.10kg. The inner sleeping tent is about the same size as the Banshee but then there’s an enormous inner lobby in which to store luggage and if necessary shelter from bad weather in comfort; I have seen solo cycle tourists store their bike in the lobby overnight.

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Because of knee problems I have not been able to use the Hilleberg for touring yet but last year we used it a few times as a camping base for walking and cycling trips and found it to be excellent.  There is one slight disappointment in that it can be very prone to condensation but by experimenting with the numerous weatherproof vent-flaps this can be controlled.  At 105cm it is no higher than the Banshee but because of the tunnel design there’s more of it in which to move around.  Made in Sweden the attention to detail and quality is excellent but it comes at a price – more than 8-times that of the Banshee!

Fortunately my wife and I still both enjoy camping and I have little doubt that our present collection will last us out.  I particularly find the combination of a tent and cycling to be an exciting experience, being totally self-contained and independent.  I have been fortunate to travel the world, stay in some of the best hotels and eat at some of the best restaurants but for me cycle-camping beats them all; arriving under you own steam, pitch on your chosen space – if you’re lucky with a good view – knock-up some food and then drift off to sleep in the best bed there is!

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Independence: transport, accommodation, bed, clothing & food!

 

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Round-Up 2016

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2016 marked the second year of Round The Bend, which is a personal record of my life on a bike.  In addition to the general commentary on cycling and various rides, this year I started two regular features in Round The Bend which ran throughout the period.  Seasonal Cycling was intended to encapsulate all that each of the four seasons and Christmas means for the cyclist.  Apart from just thinking about cycling at these times of the year, I made a point of undertaking specific rides each season during which I focused more on what exactly I was observing, hearing and feeling.

It was an interesting exercise, which made me think more about the actual experience of cycling itself as the seasons came and went.  With this in mind and after reading the excellent Need For the Bike by Paul Fournel, it led me to start Life on a bike (LOAB), which I now hope to make an ongoing occasional but ongoing feature.  Already used as this blog’s strapline, each piece is short and intended to encapsulate both the minutiae and spirit of what contributes towards a life of cycling, which for me has been about 60-years and counting – just.

It has been a real surprise and pleasure to see an unsolicited interest grow for this blog.  In 2016 there were more than 6,000 visits and  13,000 page views from 670 locations across the world.  You are all very welcome and I would be pleased to hear from anyone who would like to get in touch with queries, comments or just to say hello – contact details are in the Contact section which can be found in the About menu.

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Location of Round The Bend visitors in 2016

I am happy to say that my cycling in 2016 was better than in 2015 but as I continued to recover from a knee replacement, riding has still been something of a challenge and certainly not what it was prior to the operation.  Thankfully it was an outstanding year for British racing cyclists who excelled in the Rio Olympics by winning 12 medals, including six golds and more than twice that of the next country.  Elsewhere the Brits won no less than seven stages of the Tour de France, including four by Mark Cavendish taking him to a total of 30 in all, second only to the all-time stage winner Eddy Merckx with 34 wins – amazing!  Best of all, not forgetting Chris Froome who won the overall race for the third time, just four years since the race was won for the first time by a Brit in the form of the inimitable Wiggo – even more amazing!

For me the year started as it ended in 2015, cycling round in circles on flat local roads on the folding Joey bike so as to test my knee and gradually build-up strength and mileage.  Ironically the left, operated knee was doing quite well by now but an issue that had become evident early in 2015 had now come back again – pain in the right knee; this is not an uncommon problem as after one knee fails, soon after the other one goes!

Notwithstanding, I finally got back on my Audax bike at the beginning of March.  I really like the Joey but being back on a ‘normal’ bike after a year’s absence helped rejuvenate my cycling further.  Thereafter, I built-up mileage week-by-week taking care not to overdo it and still tended to limit most of my rides to about 20-miles.

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My regular stopping point on Eden Brook Bridge near Haxted Mill. There were times since my operation in April 2015 I thought I would not make this destination but I did in August! .

My goal for the year was to complete a favourite 30-mile circular ride to Haxted Mill to the east of my home, which I eventually achieved on 16th August.  Pleasing though it was, the discomfort after the ride was worrying and since then I have been struggling.  I am now reluctantly thinking that I am unlikely to return to long distance cycling ever again and as a result have been thinking about electric bikes as an alternative.

Apart from the usual online research, I have test ridden a few electric bikes this year with mixed impressions.  I certainly enjoyed the benefit gained from electric assistance i.e. not powered, but overall found the overall build quality of the bikes to be generally quite poor when compared to the standard road bikes I currently ride.  However, almost without exception the real killer issue was the battery range; they’re OK for going to the shops or a short commute but touring or day rides, I’m not so sure?  I have also considered converting my Trek 830 MTB with an electric hub motor, which would then provide a better underlying bike but still the battery range is an issue.  I intend to continue to looking in 2017 and may yet go electric!electric-bike-logo

It has been a big disappointment that at no stage in 2016 was I able to consider restarting cycle touring and I am currently not sure I ever will – even if I can do the miles again, the load carried is likely to be prohibitive.  Thankfully there is an alternative and by taking the bikes by car in July we were able to enjoy an excellent cycle-camping holiday on the mostly flat, French roads at Baie de Somme and subsequently at my favourite old stomping ground along and around the Avenue Vert, south of Dieppe.  By adopting a fixed camping base for a few days each time, it was possible to put together a series of circular routes radiating in various directions.  For the moment I expect this is the best I can hope for in 2017, which under the circumstances could still be a reasonable alternative to a full cycle-camping touring trip.

As previously described, I tried to gradually expand mileage through the year and thereby get back to as many of my longer local routes as possible.  Unfortunately since May there has been one other major obstacle that has more or less made most of my favourite nearby countryside rides largely impractical.  Winter floods in 2013 almost destroyed the old Flanchford Road Bridge across the River Mole on the way to Leigh and this year major works commenced to replace it, completely closing the road until February 2017.  This road had been the start and finish of probably 75% of my rides in the past and as a result of this closure the choice of cycle routes was very limited through most of this year.

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Look behind you! Cycling the Hermit Road at the Grand Canyon USA, April 2016.

Before my operation annual cycling was typically over 3,000 miles.  In 2015 I managed 1,100 miles, of which some 50% were post knee operation. The year just finished I have cycled just over 1,600 miles – excluding some turbo trainer ‘rides’ of about 150 miles.  On reflection I suppose this isn’t too bad and on occasion I have enjoyed some very nice rides; I did after all cycle along the south rim of the Grand Canyon in April too!  Nonetheless, I am disappointed not to have made more progress this year and am not really sure what cycling prospects next year holds but feel there will continue to be plenty to write about here on Round The Bend in 2017.

 

 

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Seasonal Cycling: Christmas

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I have already written about cycling and the four seasons of the year but there’s one more that brings the year to an end and starts the next – that is Christmas & New Year.  Unless you are a commuter, racing cyclist or a very, very dedicated cyclist, most of us will have reduced mileage significantly by today, the winter solstice on December 21st.  If you are lucky enough to have daylight, perhaps even some sunshine, it will be noticeable that shadows are at their longest as the sun is at its lowest point in the sky for the year.  As a result cycling into the sun can be difficult or even dangerous as sight may be seriously impaired at such times.

Deciduous trees are now bare, the roads probably wet and muddy and wildlife will be hard to find and, as a result, the countryside takes on a quiet and still ambience.  Notwithstanding, if you’re lucky cold, crisp, dry and sunny days can occur over the Christmas season, making for an enjoyable cycling experience and a pleasant, even necessary relief from eating + drinking + TV!

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Cycling can be something of a relief or even necessity after this

Living at the higher northern latitudes it’s almost certainly going to be cold and warm clothing is essential, especially for the hands, feet and head, where heat loss is at its greatest.  Precipitation at this time of the year is also likely to be a factor and may be in the form of either rain or snow.  The problem after all the Christmas food and drink is you just need to get out on the road whatever the conditions and then perhaps one thing can often leads to another.  I’ve personally had a couple of bad falls from my bike in the snow and ice just after Christmas as a result of misplaced enthusiasm.  The main roads might be OK but if it’s snowy or icy the side-roads can still be treacherous and should only be attempted with suitable equipment, such as studded tyres.

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Conditions can be challenging at Christmas – if it looks like this best stay at home.

If you’re lucky Santa might bring you something for cycling on the 25th December.  If you’re very young it might be your first bike and you will want to try it out, if you’re older and it’s a carbon fibre racing bike the same probably applies.  All-in-all it’s a happy time to enjoy with friends and relations, whilst in the quiet moments considering cycling achievements of the previous twelve months and ideas for the year ahead that will soon begin.

On January 1st New Year’s resolutions might involve cycling and various related undertakings. But most of all, it holds the promise of 365-days or four annual seasons of cycling,  adventures and enjoyment on two wheels – or three for those that ride trikes!

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Happy Christmas & Best Wishes for the New Year

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Life on a bike-6: B17

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

An intriguing statistic of the 2012 London Olympics was that GB topped the medals table for “sitting” sports: rowing, canoeing, equestrian and cycling. Whilst the legs do most of the hard work in cycling, a comfortable seat is essential.  The saddle is the main point of contact with the bike and takes most of the rider’s weight.  A good functioning saddle is critical to all cycling, especially as the mileage increases; working well it’ll get little attention when being used but as related ailments develop during a ride or tour, the saddle will become the most important piece of equipment on the bike.

Apart from set-up such as height, fore & aft position and angle, qualities such as shape, size, material and cushioning will mainly determine comfort. Not all derrières are the same, apart from size, anatomical differences between men and women often require quite different saddle design for comfort.

Modern racing saddles are very narrow and mostly made of a combination of composites, modern fabrics and specialist alloys.  Day-to-day saddles may be made of similar materials but will probably be wider and more robust in nature. Underneath the saddle rails can also play an important role in both set-up and comfort.

My preferred saddle is a Brooks.  Made in England since 1866 and often considered the Rolls Royce of saddles, I inherited my first Brooks saddle from my father in the 1960’s and have continued to use them ever since.  Apart from their shape and craftsmanship, the Brooks saddle is almost always made of leather which is both comfortable and ‘breathes’.  Notoriously they require some wearing-in when new but after a few thousand miles they take the shape of the body and provide the ultimate in cycling comfort.

Most famous of the Brooks is the B17 model – I currently use a black, Champion Narrow version – the classical Brooks saddle favoured amongst many cycling aficionados the world over, especially when touring.

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